As parat of my recent European speaking engagements, I went to Rome on February 5, 2020 to speak at the Italian Senate on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the dysfunctional state of the European Union. The next day I had long discussions with one of my co-authors, Thomas Fazi, who I wrote – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017) with. We have been working on the sequel to that book for some time, and, in the process, have had to work through some difficult issues on which there has been some degree of difference in our viewpoints. While I was in Rome, Thomas and I also recorded a video of a conversation where we talk about our sequel. We provide that video here as well as a brief discussion outlining some of the major issues that the book will address.
Last Saturday, I held an MMT Masterclass or Teach-In in London. It was an experimental session because I wanted to see what level of difficulty people would find useful as we work on developing the pedagogy and materials for MMTed, which is intending to provide free teaching resources for those interested to learning Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) from first principles. Given the time constraints, I didn’t quite finish Module 1. So I thought I would provide the slides here with a written explanation of what I would have said so that you get the complete context and application of the concepts that we developed together during the class. So this blog post completes the lecture. Thanks to all those who attended and to those who have sent me the requested feedback. This will help us improve the material and presentation approach.
I am travelling for most of today after a rather (exhausting) speaking tour of Europe and the UK. I met a lot of people, gave an (awful) lot of presentations and I thank all the organisers who helped set up the meetings. Special thanks to Tristan (Paris), the GIMMS team (UK), Kevin (Dublin), and all the other people who helped make the tour work. I will be back in Europe in June-July. On Thursday, I will be provide some information about the new book that Thomas Fazi and I are working on as the sequel to our last book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017). Tomorrow, I will be providing some final remarks to cover the material that we did not get to in last Saturday’s London MMT Masterclass.
Last Wednesday (February 19, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest- Wage Price Index, Australia – (December-quarter 2019). Both private and public sector wages growth was just 0.5 per cent in the December-quarter – keeping growth at record lows. Over the year to December 2019, overall wages growth was 2.2 per cent. With the annual inflation rate running at 1.8 per cent, workers were able to enjoy some real wages growth. However, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income. Further, 9 of the 18 industrial sectors delivered real wage cuts to their workers and the aggregate figure is distorted by the strong growth in two sectors only. At the current rate, nominal wages will be lucky to top 2 per cent in 2019-20, which means the tax revenue estimates in the fiscal plans are likely to be over-stated. And, if the mainstream narrative was remotely correct, why is employment growth flat-lining when wages growth is at record lows?
Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released of its latest data today (February 20, 2020) – Labour Force, Australia, January 2020 – which continues to show that the Australian economy is in a weak state with a fairly moderate labour market performance being recorded for the start of 2020. The culprit – the Australian government – which is starving spending by its obsessive pursuit of a fiscal surplus. Employment growth was weak – 0.1 per cent and failed to keep pace with the underlying population growth. As a result, unemployment rose by 31 thousand persons and the unemployment rate rose by 0.2 points. Hours worked fell by 0.45 per cent. The only bright spot was the rise in full-time employment. The really worrying sign was the rise in underemployment – sharply up by 0.3 points to 8.6 per cent. The total labour underutilisation rate (unemployment plus underemployment) rose sharply to 13.9 per cent (up 0.5 points). There were a total of 1,905.2 thousand workers either unemployed or underemployed. This is a deplorable result. My overall assessment is that the Australian labour market remains a considerable distance from full employment and that that distance is increasing. This persistence in labour wastage indicates that the policy settings are too tight (biased to austerity) and deliberately reducing growth and income generation. There is clear room for some serious fiscal policy expansion at present. The Federal government is willfully undermining our economy with its irresponsible policy position.
It is Wednesday in Australia and my usual blog-light day to give me more time to write other things. Although, today (in Europe as I type) I had a long flight from Athens to Paris where I am speaking to the French Senate Commission at a reception this evening. I also had to leave Athens early, so when I reached Paris and found my hotel, I took off to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a 10kms run (laps of the grounds). My trip to Athens was very successful and I will be in a position to talk about that in the weeks to come once some work has been finalised and the plan developed. But today, I want to briefly comment on a story from the Guardian’s Larry Elliot (February 14, 2020) – PM’s Treasury power grab doomed to fail, warn former insiders – which reported that some Labour Party ‘insiders’ (aka gutless morons who won’t publicly take responsibility for spreading rumours) had determined that the current government ministers would not be able to win a power struggle against the powerful H.M. Treasury, who would withhold crucial information from the government to maintain their hegemony. What? The inference was that “the Treasury’s independence” – that is, in other, more accurate words, the right of unelected and unaccountable technocrats to impose their right-wing, neoliberal austerity ideology on the democratically-elected government – was a Labour ideal that should be preserved and that those awful Tories were trying to assert democratic control of its public service institutions.
In my blog post – Japan about to walk the plank – again (September 30, 2019) – I predicted that the decision by the Japanese government to increase the sales tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent on October 1, 2010 would undermine non-government spending and growth and was totally unnecessary anyway. The government had fallen prey to the deficit terrorists who have been consistently bullying them into believing that their fiscal position is about to collapse and the bond markets would desert them. Funny that! The Bank of Japan has been buying the bulk of the public debt issued over the last several years anyway. The reality is that, given the instability of world conditions (US-China trade, European slowdown, Brexit, and, more recently, the Corona virus impacts), the Japanese government should have been increasing its fiscal deficit. Yesterday (February 17, 2020), the latest national accounts data from Japan tells us the damage that this policy folly has inflicted. Every time the Japanese government has hiked the sales tax (1997, 2014, 2019) real GDP growth has plummetted and pushed the economy into recession. In the final quarter of 2019, Japan’s growth rate slumped by an annualised 6.3 per cent, driven by a massive 11.1 per cent decline in consumption spending and capital investment decline of 14.1 per cent. Sure enough, Typhoon Hagibis was also a factor but it is undeniable that the sales tax hike was instrumental. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana had it in one when in his first volume (1905) of his book – The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress – said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
On February 7, 2020, the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Governor, Philip Lowe appeared before the Federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics to discuss the – Reserve Bank of Australia Annual Report 2019 – which is a bi-annual event where the Parliament scrutinises the activities of the unelected and largely unaccountable central bank. The – Transcript – of the session makes interesting reading. The discussion highlighted how mainstream economists fail to understand the nature of the monetary system. Last year, the Federal government introduced a fiscal stimulus (tax cut) as a bribe in the May election campaign. But economic growth continued to slow, in the face of flat real wages growth and an overall fiscal contraction (despite the tax cuts). The tax cuts didn’t stimulate private spending growth and mainstream economists then claim this proves that fiscal policy is ineffective, and by implication, that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a load of nonsense. The problem is that the tax cuts were used by households to reduce the precarious debt levels that have been building up as they try to maintain spending growth in the face of fiscal drag and flat real wages growth. All that this episode tells us is that the government really should have introduced a much larger fiscal stimulus in the first place to help the balance sheet restructuring effort and provide net growth stimulus.